Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Great (Horned) Owl Hunt.

We had such a good time in Ladner yesterday, and the weather was so nice, that we decided to go back today, to a slightly different spot. We took the turn before the bridge to Ladner Harbour Park, a mile-long, paved road with woodland and marsh on one side, new homes on the other. At the far end was a trail that led out to the edge of the river, which we were about to explore, when a jogging couple in red shirts stopped, briefly, to ask (we were carrying binoculars), "Have you seen the Great Horned Owls on the nest?"

For the second time in two days, a Ladnerite was telling us of GHOWs on nests. Today, regardless of anyone's opinion on owls (see yesterday), we had to go have a look. Where were they?

"Just down there, by the bus stop. You can see them in an open area, from the bus stop, it's the only nest there." Jog jog jog. They were jogging in place as they spoke, and then they were gone.

Okay, seemed simple enough, walk down to a bus stop, then look into the open space in the forest for the nest, which would be conspicuous. Off we went.

We came to a bus stop, and looked at the forest, which didn't seem to be particularly open. Directly in front were masses of flowering willows. What kind? Well, if you knew willows like I know willows, you would know they were willows.

But no owl nest. There was another bus stop a bit further down. Son and I forged ahead, eyes to the woods, as mother and daughter lagged behind. We came to the second bus stop, and scanned the trees for the conspicuous nest.

We saw these--oyster(?) mushrooms on the trunk of a decapitated cottonwood. No open space, no owl nest. The mushrooms were cool though, worth the walk. On we went to bus stop three. (There is always another bus stop in the distance to keep you hopeful.) Could it be that far? As a former middle distance runner, I am aware that joggers have a skewed sense of distance, so yes, it could.

By this point, mother and daughter were quite far behind. We started doing something that seemed a little ridiculous--phoning each other about how things were going, even though we were in plain sight of each other.

I reported that son and I were almost at the next bus stop, which was not necessary.

At bus stop three was a great cottonwood snag, full of the memories of cavity-nesting birds and imprinted with the tunnelling of bark beetles. Cottonwoods fall apart so magnificently--I am falling in love with these trees.

But no owl nest. I was aware that I had a particular search image for the nest, based on several other Great Horned Owl nests I have seen, but which may have been incorrect. I tried to think of what an owl nest I wouldn't normally imagine would look like, to start looking for that too.

Nothing. Phone rang. Mother and daughter were abandoning the hunt, heading back up the road to the car. They would drive down to pick us up.

This added urgency to the hunt. We were by now at the end of the road, a mile from where we started. We would have to find the nest on the way back before the car met us.

Quickly we backtracked, looking, looking, for what we were no longer sure. "This looks like a likely open spot," I would say, but then the spot would close up again, without a nest.

Son was dropping back, almost dragging his binoculars on the sidewalk. "My neck feels kind of hot," he said. I stuffed his binos into my pack.

I could see the car approaching, through a heat haze, like in High Plains Drifter. Oh no. We rushed ahead, looking into the woods. The car drew up.

And then a miracle happened. The red-shirt jogging couple came upon us again. "Did you see it?"

"We missed it," I admitted.

"Just go over to that bus stop, and you can see it from there." The woman pointed at a bus stop on the other side of the road.

"You have to cross the road to look back into the forest?"

You did. We had been walking up and down the wrong side of the road. You see the nest by getting farther away from it.

And so we saw it, a distant tuft of sticks, way up a tree, in a kind of open area. I leaned against a post to snap a handful of pictures through a telephoto lens, hoping one would be steady.

Hoot! (Great Horned Owl on nest, Ladner, BC).


PSYL said...

Hoot! What a find. Glad you finally saw it at the end of your trip.

Do you know which buses stop at those stops?

Anonymous said...

Wow - that is quite a sight! Wonderful hunt with a big payoff.

Kim and Victoria said...

Nice story. Nice pic.

Hugh said...

PSYL, Sorry, I don't know. They are along Ferry Rd., which is a dead end street running north from River Rd. The stop from which to spot the nest is about a third of the way down (from the north end) on the east side, looking across the road.

Wanderin' Weeta said...

We were down there about the same time, looking for your hummingbirds.

One of these times, we'll cross paths.

BerryBird said...

I love your photo of the owl in the nest! There's nothing like a challenge to make a good story -- I'm so glad it worked out at the end.

Hugh said...


It was a relief to one and all, but especially me, to find it.